At multiple times in life, we encounter people who seem difficult to deal with. Whether it’s an angry customer, a rude coworker and boss or an inconsiderate spouse. Some of these encounters are short lived however some related to work, family or friends last many years. While most of people are able to handle short encounters calmly pretty well, knowing that it will not go on for very long and they can always avoid such people in future. The problem arises where these encounters with difficult people are not short lived and one is stuck with them for years at workplace or with a spouse or a relative. While some bouts of brashness and anger are common in all relationships, in this write-up I am specifically talking about dealing with people who are difficult to deal most of the time.

The first thing to do when you encounter such people is to work on your own mind by being a) empathetic and b) disassociating the person with his/ her behavior.

Being empathetic may help us in understanding why the other person is behaving the way he/ she does. There could be an underlying reason. It can be because of their own unfulfilled greed or ambitions, issues in family  or some tragic loss. Most of people start behaving difficult after one of above issues strike them and after a while it becomes a habit. It helps a lot to try and just listen in a supportive way. Also understand that such a person might be avoided and shunned by many others, it might make a difference if such person gets a helpful ear.

Hindu scriptures recognize that soul of every person is pure and unblemished. It is only after soul’s power is overshadowed by layer of ego and desires in mind, a person’s behavior becomes negative due to their interplay. Accordingly no person per say is bad from inside. We should always disassociate a person from his/ her emotional behavior. When people are emotional they cannot think rationally. Negativity in people’s mind feed on negative external reactions. The more negativity is fed, whether from inside or outside, the stronger it becomes. So every time we react negatively to a negative behavior, it only becomes worse. On the other hand, when this negativity is fed more and more with empathy and positive reactions, it start becoming weaker. Accordingly one should never react negatively to negative people. A lack of reaction or staying calm helps in calming the other person as well. This can be understood from a story related to Buddha.

It is said that once when Buddha was teaching a group of people, he found himself at the receiving end of a fierce outburst of abuse from an angry bystander. Buddha listened patiently while the stranger vented his rage. After the bystander was done, Buddha asked the group and to the stranger, “If someone gives a gift to another person, who chooses to decline it, tell me, who would then own the gift? The giver or the person who refuses to accept the gift?” “The giver,” said the group after a little thought. “Any fool can see that,” added the angry stranger. “Then it follows, does it not,” said Buddha, “Whenever a person tries to abuse us, or to unload their anger on us, we can each choose to decline or to accept the abuse. By our own personal response to the abuse from another, we can choose who owns and keeps the bad feelings.”

Now the question is, if we have already worked on above two aspects and yet the behavior of such person does not improve, what should we do?  In an attempt to try and improve a difficult person, sometimes we attempt to lecture the other person expecting them to change his/ her behavior. While this can work on kids since they have a receptive mind, it seldom works on adults laden with big egos and stiff mindset. In such a situation we should hold back on such a thought and lead by our own example. Bhagvad Gita shows the way when this situation arises:

न बुद्धिभेदं जनयेदज्ञानां कर्मसङ्गिनाम् |

जोषयेत्सर्वकर्माणि विद्वान्युक्त: समाचरन् || 3.26||

na buddhi-bhedaṁ janayed ajñānāṁ karma-saṅginām

joṣhayet sarva-karmāṇi vidvān yuktaḥ samācharan

The wise should not create discord in the intellects of ignorant people, who are attached to fruits of actions, by inducing them to stop work. Rather, by performing their own duties in an enlightened manner, they should inspire the ignorant also to do their prescribed duties.

Further, we should also introspect regularly on our own behavior to see that we are not acting difficult with people around us. Sri Krishna in Bhagvad Gita state:

यस्मान्नोद्विजते लोको लोकान्नोद्विजते च य: |

हर्षामर्षभयोद्वेगैर्मुक्तो य: स च मे प्रिय: || 12.15||

yasmān nodvijate loko lokān nodvijate cha yaḥ

harṣhāmarṣha-bhayodvegair mukto yaḥ sa cha me priyaḥ

Those who are not a source of annoyance to anyone and who in turn are not agitated by anyone, who are equal in pleasure and pain, and free from fear and anxiety, such devotees of Mine are very dear to Me.

Om Shanti!